Sales figures for the final quarter of 2019 published recently in the BMF’s Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI) round off a disappointing year for the sector, with a third consecutive quarter of negative growth.
There were six less trading days in Q4 compared with Q3, but a comparison of average sales per day (which removes the impact of trading day differences) for the two periods shows a decline of -5.2% in total builders’ merchants’ sales in Q4.
Comparing Q4 year-on-year also saw a decline in sales. Quarter 4 2019 had one less trading day than Q4 2018 and year-on-year average daily sales were down -2.4%. Within this, the largest category, Heavy Building Materials, was down by -3.0%, Timber & Joinery by -5.2%, Landscaping by -1.9% and Plumbing Heating & Electrical by -0.7%. A few categories did see sales increase. For example, Kitchen & Bathrooms rose by +4.7%, Renewables & Water Saving by +8.2% and Workwear & Safetywear by +7.6%
The BMBI uses GfK’s point of sale tracking data drawn from over 80% of builders’ merchants’ sales throughout the country, making it the most reliable source of data for the sector.
Taking the year 2019 as a whole, builders’ merchants experienced marginal growth of +0.1% against 2018, albeit having one less trading day this year.
A review of the 12 topline categories tracked by GfK shows that four of these saw a decline in value from 2018. Tools has seen the largest drop, decreasing by -6.3%, with Heavy Building Material (-0.1%), Timber & Joinery (-1.0%) and Plumbing, Heating & Electrical (-0.3%), also showing negative growth.
Drilling down, Emile van der Ryst, Senior Client Insight Manager – Trade, at GfK said: “Within the core categories, Heavy Building Materials reported small declines in most key areas such as Bricks, Blocks, Roofing and Aggregates, with Plasters & Plasterboards the big winner in the past year. Both Timber and Sheet Materials saw declines within the Timber & Joinery category, with Cladding and Flooring the areas with the most positive growth.”
John Newcomb, BMF CEO, summed up: “The final Quarter of 2019 didn’t give builders merchants much to cheer about and the same can be said for the year as a whole. The Brexit drama dominated headlines and created uncertainty across all spheres of business in the UK, including the Builders’ Merchant industry. Differing weather events in 2019 vs 2018 also played a part. Looking forward, Q1 2020 could bring another bumpy ride. Word on the merchant grapevine is that January trading was more positive, but with Storms Ciara and Dennis in February, we are unlikely to see a Boris Bounce just yet.”